Sautéing 101: 3 Steps to Sautéing PLUS 4 Steps to a Sauté Pan Sauce
What is Sautéing?
The word sauté is derived from the French word, “sauté”, which means, to jump. Jumping is an appropriate description of this cooking method because when you sauté, you keep the food constantly in motion by stirring and/or shaking the pan throughout.
Meat, fish, and vegetables can all be sautéd in a shallow pan with a thin coating of oil or other fat. Products can be sautéd whole or in smaller pieces if you choose to chop, dice, or slice before cooking.
Once the fat in the pan feels hot — which you can test by extending your hand just above the pan — add your product, bump the heat to medium high, and there you go…you’re sautéing!
Sautéing is a form of dry-heat cooking, like frying and roasting, because it uses the heat of the fat to develop a rich flavor and brown color on the finished product. You’re aiming for a crisp and/or seared texture on the outside, and juicy tenderness on the inside.
3 Easy Steps for Sautéing:
#1: Choose a pan that fits the size of your product(s) so that all pieces come into direct contact with the pan. Be sure not to crowd your pan in order to maintain consistent heat and even browning.
#2: Add a small amount of fat to just barely cover the pan with a film like sheen. When the pan feels warm to your hand (see above), add your product(s) and listen for that sizzle…
#3: Cook for three to five minutes, depending on what you’re sautéing, while shaking the pan or stirring the product to prevent sticking. This is where you may want to adjust your heat – no burning now, so pay close attention.
If your product is thick, like a full chicken breast, you may need to finish it in the oven (at about 300-350° F) to avoid drying and/or burning. Once done, remove the protein from the oven and place on a rack over a sheet pan to drain.
4 Steps to Your Sauté Pan Sauce:
One of the best things about sautéing is the built-in sauce. Once you’ve removed your product from the sauté pan, you can get started with a tasty topper using the steps below…
#1: Start by removing any excess fat from the pan that didn’t get absorbed during sautéing. Cover the bottom of your still hot pan with wine or stock to begin the deglazing process. This is where you gather up all the brown bits, or “fond”, that stick to the bottom of the pan during sautéing.
Fond is French for “bottom” so let’s keep the French going…
Using a wooden spoon or spatula unearth the fond from the pan while combining it with the wine or stock over high heat. The deglazing process will give your sauce a deep and customized flavor that should pair perfectly with your finished product.
#2: Next, reduce the liquid in the pan to almost, but not quite, a dry pan, or “sec”.
Sucs comes from the French word (notice a theme?) sucre, or sugar. The reason we use it to describe this state of our sauté pan sauce is because after the reduction, what’s left are tiny pieces of caramelized sugars.
To reduce the liquid, increase the heat to medium high until it boils. Let boil uncovered until the amount of liquid has reduced to the sucs stage.
#3: There are a couple different ways to go from here but I like to add a prepared sauce base. Some options include a demi sauce, reduced stock sauce, vegetable puree or coulis sauce, and/or cream. All of these can be added now and then reduced a bit more.
If your sauce needs a bit of thickening I would add a starch slurry or better yet, Wondra Flour for correct consistency.
#4: Finish and garnish the sauce with herbs, essences (e.g. infused vinegars, shrubs, and aromatic extracts for additional flavoring), cold butter, or similar items like one of the five mother sauces:
In regards to adding butter, or “monte au beurre,” which means to add cold butter pieces to a finished sauce, this gives the sauce a nice sheen.
Chef Gerrie’s Sautéing Tips:
- Cut raw products into small uniform pieces in order to achieve the desired browning color evenly and keep the pan hot throughout the cooking process.
- Similar to the tip above, don’t overcrowd your pan. Too much food dissipates the heat, causing the food to steam or boil rather than sauté.
- Season raw foods with salt and pepper, a rub, or spice blends to aid in the development of flavor.
- This is optional, but if you’re using a protein, say chicken breast, large sea scallops, or fish fillets, lightly (and I do mean lightly) dust with flour before adding to the pan. Not only does this method add thickness to your sauce, but it can also help the product develop a tasty crust. I prefer to use Wondra Flour, which is a finely ground bake flour that easily dissolves without causing lumps in the sauce.
- If you’re sautéing one piece of meat, poultry, fish, or vegetable try to only turn it once for the best presentation.
What’s your favorite sauté recipe? Do you often make a sauce in the pan or use a different method. Let’s talk it out in the comments below or on my Facebook page, Chef Gerrie, see you there!